(Note: Story includes language throughout that will offend some readers.)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller arrives at his office building in Washington, U.S., April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon
By Ginger Gibson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report builds upon dozens of interviews, notes and communications to piece together what was happening inside President Donald Trump’s White House.
Here are some of those scenes:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions broke the news to Trump on May 17, 2017, that Rod Rosenstein had appointed Robert Mueller to be the special counsel.
Sessions was with Trump in the Oval Office conducting interviews for a new FBI director but stepped outside when Rosenstein called to give him the news.
Trump slumped in his chair after Sessions returned and informed him of the appointment, according to notes taken at the time by Jody Hunt, who was Session’s chief of staff, and provided to Mueller’s team.
“Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked,” Trump said.
Trump then turned his anger toward Sessions.
“You were supposed to protect me,” Sessions recalled Trump telling him.
Trump then again bemoaned the potential fallout of a special counsel.
“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” Trump then said, according to both Hunt and Sessions.
A TENSE MEETING
Chief of Staff John Kelly detailed a “tense” Oval Office meeting he convened the morning of Feb. 6, 2018, to try to smooth things over between Trump and White House Counsel Don McGahn.
Months earlier, McGahn had been on the brink of resigning when he said Trump told him to get rid of Special Counsel Mueller. Now, Trump was angry because the New York Times and Washington Post had written articles about McGahn’s refusal to fire Mueller.
“I never said to fire Mueller,” Trump began the meeting, according to McGahn’s retelling to Mueller. “I never said ‘fire.’ This story doesn’t look good. You need to correct this. You’re the White House counsel.”
McGahn refused, saying that the article in the Times was accurate.
“Did I say the word ‘fire’?” Trump then said, according to accounts by both McGahn and Kelly.
McGahn said he responded, “What you said is, ‘Call Rod (Rosenstein), tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can’t be the Special Counsel.’”
“I never said that,” McGahn recalled Trump saying.
‘THE RUSSIA THING IS OVER’
On Valentine’s Day 2017, Trump had lunch with then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Trump told Christie, who had become an ally of the president early in the campaign, that the firing of Michael Flynn, the former national security aide, was going to solve his problems.
“Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over,” Trump told Christie, the governor recalled.
Christie laughed and told the president he expected they would still be discussing Russia a year later.
“That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over,” Trump countered.
Christie, a former U.S. attorney, then told the president that he should not talk about the investigation, even if frustrated, and that he was going to be stuck with the Flynn story for a long time.
“Like gum on the bottom of your shoe,” Christie said.
SESSIONS RESIGNATION LETTER
As Trump flew from Saudi Arabia to Tel Aviv in May 2017, he reached into his pocket and produced a resignation letter that had been written two days earlier by Sessions.
Trump showed the letter to senior advisers, including Hope Hicks, who recalled the scene to Mueller’s team.
The letter had already become a point of concern among Trump’s aides. Sessions had delivered the letter to Trump the day before, but ultimately Trump and the attorney general had determined he would remain in the job.
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were concerned that Trump was holding on to the letter and that he would use it as leverage against the Justice Department. The two top aides decided to try to get it back.
The president had the Justice Department “by the throat,” Priebus said.
But when Preibus approached Trump on the Middle East trip and asked him to turn it over, the president insisted it wasn’t with him. Instead, Trump claimed, it was somewhere in the White House residence.
It would take another 10 days – three days after Trump returned from his trip – for the president finally turned it over.
(This story has been refiled to fix typographical error in 16th paragraph to make it “saying” instead of “say”.)
Reporting by Ginger Gibson; editing by Jonathan Oatis